November 2013 Archways


“Absolutely Amazing” Zadie Smith Is This Year’s Balch Speaker


Award-winning author Zadie Smith was the 2013 Balch Speaker at Bryn Mawr. Photo by Peter Tobia.

As this year’s Emily Balch Speaker, novelist Zadie Smith captivated her audience of Bryn Mawr freshmen with a reading from “Man Versus Corpse,” an essay soon to be published in the New York Review of Books.

Smith, whose appearance was partially underwritten by the Roberta Holder Gellert Symposium Fund, got rave reviews: Samantha Plate ’17 live-tweeted the “absolutely amazing” event, and in her Dispatches from Taylor Hall blog, Interim President Kim Cassidy described the evening as “the perfect combination of intellectual engagement, excitement (at meeting a famous author), and fun.”

Smith’s remarks were followed by a Q&A session, during which, as Cassidy put it, “we were treated to a glimpse of how this amazing writer thinks about her work, and through her candid answers, we got a glimpse of her as a real person.”

Smith burst on the literary scene in 1997 while still a student at Cambridge University when a partial manuscript of her first novel, White Teeth, set off a bidding war among publishers. Centered on a gritty, multicultural London neighborhood and the story of a Bengali immigrant and his English army buddy, the novel introduced Smith’s persistent themes of identity—race, class, gender, religion—and history.

Other novels by Smith include The Autograph Man (2002), On Beauty (2005), and NW (2013). In 2009, Smith published Changing My Mind, a collection of essays about writing and reading. During the course of her career, she has won numerous accolades, among them the Whitbread Book Award, the Guardian Book Award, and the Orange Prize. She also featured in Time magazine’s 100 Best English-Language Novels from 1923 to 2005 and Granta’s 20 Best Young British Novelists.

The Emily Balch Seminar, taken by all first-year students in their first semester, introduces students to the close reading, writing, and seminar-style discussion typical of College classes. Smith’s visit is the third from a special speaker. In 2011, MacArthur Award winner Karen Russell spoke about her novel Swamplandia, and in 2012 Alison Bechdel discussed her genre-breaking graphic memoir, Fun Home.


The documentary film The Loving Story was shown at Bryn Mawr as part of the Created Equal initiative.

Bryn Mawr Participates in Created Equal Initiative

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

2013 also marks the College’s first year of participation in Created Equal: America’s Civil Rights Struggle, a two-year, nationwide initiative to encourage community discussion of America’s civil rights history.

Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the initiative is organized around four documentary films—The Abolitionists, Slavery by Another Name, Freedom Riders, and The Loving Story—and is being staged in communities all across the country.

Taking on the issue of race in the making of American democracy, the films relate the history of the abolitionist movement in the 1830s, the emergence of new forms of forced labor for African Americans in the decades after the Civil War, the Freedom Riders of 1961 who challenged segregation in the Deep South, and the landmark 1967 Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which overturned bans on interracial marriage.

Bryn Mawr’s events are open to the public and feature panel discussions with academics, civil rights activists, and others who have researched and/or experienced firsthand the issues raised by the films. The first screening in the series—The Loving Story—took place on Nov. 14 and was accompanied by a discussion panel featuring Bryn Mawr alumnae, faculty, and staff. Outreach and Educational Technology Librarian Olivia Castello spearheaded the grant application for the College

Learn more and see the schedule of upcoming events at



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